Cut My Life Into Pieces
Gerard fumbles nervously with his bag outside the hotel room door, listening out for the approaching footsteps of a stranger or an especially sneaky fan while he finds his keycard. Fortunately the long carpeted corridor is empty and silent at this hour in the morning. Even the maids haven’t checked in yet. Frank waits in silence beside him, leaning heavily against the wall with his eyes on the floor. He hasn’t said a word since they left the bus.
The card does its thing, beeping softly in the lock, and the door swings open. Frank looks up slowly like he’s forcing himself to move and his large green eyes gaze numbly into the dimly-lit space. Dried blood is smeared on one of his cheeks like war paint.
“Where’s Mikey?” he asks in the stillness.
“Not sure,” Gerard shrugs, walking inside and flipping on the lights before glancing around, “Not here,” he adds, stating the obvious, “He’s probably next door with Bob and Ray or out with Brian. Dude, come in, sit down. Are you hungry? Here, I have graham crackers. ”
Moving like a sleepwalker, Frank sits down heavily on Gerard’s unmade bed with the box of crackers and nibbles on one half-heartedly. Sighing worriedly, Gerard pulls up a chair opposite his friend. “Do you want to talk about what's been bothering you?” he asks softly, “You’re going to have to eventually. Things can’t go on like this.”
Frank swallows his snack and bites his lip, looking down and fretfully tugging his sleeves over his blood-stained fingers. His face is mostly hidden behind the jagged curtain of his hair but Gerard can tell he really doesn’t want to be here. “There’s nothing to talk about. Just leave it alone, Gee, please. You can’t help.”
Gerard nods miserably, feeling the room’s cold walls closing in on both of them to trap them here in this awkward silence. How is he supposed to help someone who doesn't want help? Is there anything he can say in a situation like this?
Frank flops down on his back on the bed staring at the ceiling and Gerard notices that his young friend is wearing those ragged blue jeans of his with the ripped knees and duct tape all over them. There’s blood drying under his bitten-down fingernails.
“How long have you been, uh…”
“Cutting myself?” Frank finishes, his voice flat and bitter, “Does it matter?”
“Of course it matters,” Gerard snaps, a little anger bursting out of his fear and worry, “I thought we were way past secrets now, Frankie, and past locking all this kind of stuff up inside. Mikey had to find you bleeding all over the shower and I found you nearly passed out on the fucking floor this morning! Why didn’t you talk to one of us before things got so bad?”
Frank shakes his head and curls up into a ball on the crumpled bed covers, drained of all his usual energy and laughter. With a stab of guilt, Gerard realises that he hasn’t heard Frank laugh in days, maybe even weeks. He should have known something was wrong.
“I didn’t want to tell any of you,” Frank finally answers, tiredly closing his eyes as his body tenses with the stress of making himself explain, “I just…I guess I wanted it to affect me and nobody else. It's my problem, not yours. It doesn't have to change anything. I didn't want you to look at me different.”
“But you don't have to deal with it alone,” Gerard murmurs gently, lighting up a cigarette from the bedside table. Frank sighs, “Well maybe I want to, okay? I first cut years ago in junior high school and none of you knew me back then. When I started doing it again a few weeks ago I guess it was because there was nothing else in my life that helped. I didn’t think any of you would understand that,” he adds, sitting up and looking into Gerard’s eyes, “And you don’t.”
Gerard exhales smoke into the stuffy air and leans back, shocked by the coldness in his best friend’s voice. “I do want to understand though,” he says, “It’s not too late to talk about this, Frankie, and maybe I can help you stop this whole thing for good.”
“Oh you think it’s that easy?” Frank cries, jumping to his feet with unexpected energy, his eyes blazing with disbelief, “I can’t believe you of all people would say that, Gerard. This is why I didn’t want to tell you. I don't want your fucking sympathy! Do you get it now?”
Storming over to the door, Frank pulls it open and is back in the corridor before Gerard can stop him. “Frank, wait!”
Slamming the door in Gerard’s face, Frank runs away down the corridor. Guilt from shouting at his friend is already burning hot in the back of his head but he ignores it and crams it down inside of him with all of the other burning, howling screams. He doesn’t know or care where he’s going now but anywhere away from here will do. He can’t handle seeing the pity and desperate need to help shining in Gerard’s hazel eyes for one second longer. He doesn’t need help and he certainly doesn’t want pity! He’s not a victim of anything but himself. He isn’t broken and he doesn’t need to be fucking fixed! What happened this morning was an accident. He cut too deep, lost a little too much blood, got a little dizzy for a while. That’s all. It happens. It doesn’t mean anything. None of this means anything. It’s just another way of living. Another way to survive.
Would they rather he was dead?
The corridor curves and Frank follows it back around to the elevators, his sneakers pounding on the carpet. The new bandages on his arms are itchy and one is already damp and spotted with red at the wrist. A head rush fizzes across his eyes as he walks and his chest aches with the pressure of unshed tears and un-vented anger. He feels like he’s going to explode.
Doors open and close behind him. “Hey Frankie, wait up!” It’s Ray’s voice and despite his urge to escape any more pitying looks and clueless words, Frank is almost tempted to stop and turn around. For as long as he and Ray have known each other, Ray has always looked out for him, keeping him out of trouble, holding him back from fights. Frank pretends that it annoys him but really, deep down, it makes him feel safe and he could really use some of that feeling today. He’s been riding down a dangerous, slippery blood-red spiral to get to a calming place that scares him almost as much as it comforts him and lets him breathe. Last night he came damn near close to slashing his wrists right open in the shower and he knows it. He was cutting deeper and deeper, not even feeling the pain, gasping and desperate to somehow get back the euphoria that he’s been missing onstage. Ever since She left him playing music is all he lives for, it’s what he was born to do and the only thing in his life that he has ever done right. If he can’t play properly anymore or feel how good it can be, how freeing, how beautiful, how perfect – then what has he got left?
Footsteps. Running. Getting closer now. ‘It’s not fair,’ Frank thinks miserably as his own footsteps slow and weaken and the fizzing headrush blinds his eyes, ‘Ray’s got longer legs than me.’
“Frankie,” Ray says again, laying a warm hand on Frank’s shoulder and gently pulling him to a stop, “Why are you running away?”
“I…don’t know,” Frank gasps shakily, nearly falling over as that fucking dizziness returns with a vengeance. Ray quickly wraps his arm around his back and steadies him, keeping him upright, and Frank sighs in defeat and leans exhausted against his friend.
There’s pressure building up behind his eyes and in his chest and he wants more than ever to just let it all go and burst into tears right here in the corridor, but his eyes stay as dry as the desert and the burden of feelings and confusion inside him gets so heavy that he can barely lift his head.
More rapid footsteps and then Gerard and Mikey appear closely folowed by Bob. Shock and concern is radiating off of all of them in waves so clear that Frank could see them even with his eyes closed. But he doesn’t want his friends to look at him like this; he doesn’t want their pitying well-intentioned stares burning into his skin. Stares that say “you're so damaged”, “you;re broken”, “how can we fix this?”
The stares burn and without meaning to they hurt, cutting deeper than any razor. Frank hasn’t been cutting himself for attention and he doesn’t want to be coddled and worried over.
“Come on,” Gerard says, “Let’s get him back to my room. He needs to lie down before he falls down.”
“No,” Frank whispers, dry sobs tearing at his throat – why can’t he cry? - “Nope...”
“Don't worry dude,” Bob reassures him as Ray’s firm hand guides Frank back down the corridor, “You’ll be okay, Frankie.”
...YOU’RE DAMAGED. YOU’RE BROKEN. YOU NEED US. WE’RE WATCHING. YOU’RE TRAPPED....
“Ten minutes everyone! You’re onstage in ten!”
Her message delivered, the blonde runner ducks back out of the dressing room door and scurries away into the depths of the arena. In her wake, the frantic activity in the My Chemical Romance dressing room intensifies in a blur of instruments, coffee and scattered costumes. Frank sits by himself on a worn leather couch in the corner wearing his Black Parade uniform and I-pod headphones, listening to endless tracks on shuffle. He couldn’t hear what the runner said just now over the roar of Black Flag but it doesn’t take a genius to guess. A few feet away, Gerard is adjusting the rip-away hospital gown he wears over his uniform for the opening song while Mikey douses his head in hairspray and Bob hammers out jerky rhythms on a practice pad with his drumsticks.
The Black Flag track ends and Frank watches people start to leave the dressing room for the black wings of the main stage above. The thrumming baselines of tonight’s support act are still reverberating through his bones and white stage make-up is wet on his face. Ray wanders in from outside and signals that the MCR pre-show High-Five ritual is gonna be starting now in the wings.
Frank doesn’t get up to join his friends but sits there draining the last of his coffee while Taking Back Sunday blasts through his headphones. Bob jumps up ready to go and catches Frank’s eye, smiling cautiously at him. Frank slips on his mental happy mask and smiles back, if only to stop the drummer from hovering anxiously around him even more than he already is.
Nearly a week has passed since Gerard and the others found out about his secret and life on tour has become even harder for Frank to say the least. No locks or razors have been taken away – everyone agrees that since he isn’t a child he can’t really be treated like one – but he is rarely left alone and there’s always somebody watching him. If he wants to go and play computer games by himself in the tour bus lounge, Bob or Ray will immediately drop whatever they’re doing and say they want to play too and when the bus stops in a new city Gerard or Worm or someone else will always find an excuse to stay by Frank’s side when he goes out shopping or for coffee. People knock on the washroom door every two minutes while he’s taking a shower and he’s never ever left with the bus to himself. Wherever he goes he’s kept under constant observation by technicians, band mates, security team members and managers and it’s suffocating and driving him nuts.
Probably the worst thing is that everyone is acting like nothing’s wrong and they aren’t even aware that they’re stalking Frank like vultures day and night. He still refuses to talk to anybody about what he sees as his own private business - and what everybody else sees as his “problem”- and as a consequence nobody is really talking to him about anything anymore. Nothing that matters anyway. Every conversation is an excruciating mix of forced small talk and tip-toeing around the elephant in the room and Frank is sad to find himself trying to avoid his friends. The whole sticky situation is upsetting him more and more every day but if he acts more emotionally than usual, if he’s grumpy or moody or loud, then everyone around him tenses up like they expect him to grab the nearest sharp object and slit his own throat at any moment!
Living at the centre of all of this unease is enough to drive anyone mad and Frank takes every chance he gets to sneak away from his minders and go for long walks on his own. Sometimes he succeeds only to be met with frantic glances and questioning eyes when he returns and that makes him feel guilty and ashamed like he’s committed some terrible crime. Then his eyes start to burn and his chest aches and his hands start shaking with anger and stress – he hasn’t done anything wrong! Why are they treating him like this? – and he escapes to the washroom or his bunk and cuts his shoulder or his legs, not caring if anyone catches him doing it.
His friends are becoming one of the reasons he cuts and Frank can’t take it much longer. With the added pressure of everybody crowding in on his privacy, he needs the soothing release that self-harm gives him now more than ever but ironically enough he just isn’t getting it. Because of the stares and whispers and the tension in the air, he feels hopeless and wrong when he cuts now when before he’d felt relieved and secure. It’s all Gerard’s fault, Gerard and Mikey and everyone else - why can’t they just leave him alone?!
Now Frank sits in the dressing room before tonight’s show with band-aids striping his arms under his sleeves, feeling sick and depressed. The music in his ears is the only thing keeping him sane tonight and he doesn’t want to move from this couch because he’s afraid that if he stands up he’ll fall apart in front of everyone. He doesn’t want to go onstage tonight but playing music in this band still means the world to him, even if he can’t feel the rush of performing like he used to, and he knows that he probably wouldn’t survive without it. So night after night, in city after city, he takes the stage and goes through the motions: throwing himself around with his guitar, smashing microphones and nuzzling Gerard’s chest and basically acting like he always does because like breathing, it’s necessary to keep himself alive. The fans haven’t noticed a change in him and Frank is amazed at how easy it is to fake being his “normal” self. He wonders how many people out there in the audience are faking too. How many of those kids are wearing cuffs and sweatbands and stripy arm-warmers just for show and how many are actually hiding something underneath?
The next random song on Frank’s playlist is something slow and soft and heart-stoppingly sad. A woman’s voice: Sarah McLachlan or someone like her, and it’s definitely not the kind of song he would normally listen to. With a heartsick sinking feeling he realises that this is one of Her downloads, a song from the soundtrack to one of her favourite movies. It’s mournful and haunting and it shouldn’t even be on Frank’s music player. He erased this track months ago - he’s sure he did! - along with every other song She had ever downloaded for him because after the break-up he couldn’t listen to any of them without wanting to die. The fact that he is in public now doesn’t make much of a difference: he still wants to curl up into a quivering wreck on the couch and sink through it into deep black oblivion. He feels frozen with regret and hurt, too numb to even skip the track as it plays on and on in his ears, stripping away the rest of the world and splitting it apart into a gale of minor keys and sorrow.
Frank’s hands twitch unconsciously in his fingerless black gloves, hungry for a blade. She left him months ago now and he’d thought he was over the worst of it but for some reason this song is triggering him like nothing he’s ever felt before! The bone-deep ache burning inside him is too much this time; he can’t control it or hide it behind a mask. He needs to relieve the pressure, to carve it out right now!
Someone’s fingers are snapping loudly in front of his face.
“Hey, snap out of it!”
Hands reach down and yank the headphones out of Frank’s ears, killing Her song.
“Frank, get up buddy. We have to go!” Frank blinks, looks up, and sees nothing but shadows and dust. Then the world roars back to life and he sees Mikey and Bob standing right in front of him. Mikey is holding a new bass guitar in his arms, white and black to match his uniform.
“Show’s starting, Frank,” he says impatiently, “Let’s go!”
His bandmates leave the room and Frank watches them go for a moment, half-awake, his head spinning. Then he throws his ipod aside and makes himself get up and run after his friends: down over-heated passageways, into the wings and onto the main stage itself, hidden behind a black curtain which temporarily separates the band from their screaming audience. Ray is already there, standing on the other side of the stage. He looks relieved to see Frank.
Matt Cortez, the band’s guitar technician, hands Frank his first guitar of the night and Bob climbs quickly onto the drum riser while Mikey gets into position near center stage. They wait there in silence, hearts pounding, adrenaline pumping, listening to the audience’s screams turn into hysterical shrieks as Gerard appears to them on his own somewhere beyond the black curtain, singing to the hordes of sweating, buzzing bodies in his hospital clothes. It’s just Gerard and the audience right now but in a few moments the show will really begin and Frank’s hands will slide over his guitar strings as his legs carry him forward into the spotlights, the drums and guitars kick in, and the curtain rises to reveal him, Mikey, Ray and Bob to the crowd along with a vast gothic backdrop and plumes of real flames: The Black Parade in all its glory.
Sighing miserably as Her song still rattles in his mind, Frank shakes his long black bangs into his eyes and takes some deep breaths, trying to soothe his shattered psyche, but it isn’t working. He can’t calm down. There’s a blade in his pocket…
“You okay?” Mikey asks. Frank automatically nods ‘yes’ in answer to the tired old question and then snorts at the blatant lie. Mikey frowns, looking concerned under his ghostly white make-up, but there’s no time to talk now. Gerard sings the big cue, technicians flip switches, the curtain flies up, lights dazzle, kids scream, bass lines shake the arena walls and Frank finds himself at the front of the stage with his guitar as a wave of heat and noise washes over him.
The audience is close to 12,000 people tonight but in the glare of the spotlights Frank can only see the first few rows. Kids are already being pulled out of the heaving mosh pit and the hot, moist air is throbbing like a living thing. It’s going to be a wild night, the kind that he used to adore because performing in an atmosphere like this gave him an unbeatable rush. But thanks to the claustrophobic pressure of the last few days and the painful memories on his music player, he’s feeling more triggered now than ever and he can’t shake it off. He can’t lose himself in the music and the familiar stage theatrics. Not this time. He’s burning, aching and hurting too much.
The shadowed faces in the audience blur and darken, howling for blood. Can they see the need on Frank’s face tonight? Does anyone truly see him standing up here or are they just looking at his hair, his clothes, his body?
The song changes and Frank retreats towards the back of the stage, playing his guitar with numb fingers and looking around for help from his excited band mates as they run and jump about, their spirits high music roaring in their ears. He has never felt so separate from them. So unreal and fake and lost. He wants to cry. Or throw up.
WHAT AM I DOING HERE?
Blood, blood, blood…
Figures dressed in black hover in the wings. Lights strobe and flash red and white. Blood and bone. Sweat and a lack of tears. Frank ducks his head and tries to concentrate on his playing, tries to breathe. It isn’t working – nothing’s working! He needs blood and pain. He needs to feel alive again before he’s lost and dead forever.
Lights flash and he nearly drops his guitar. The song ends with a staged explosion and the earth-shaking cry of “DEAD!”